Human resources, often referred to as HR or HRM (Human Resources Management), is the industry that collects all roles related to the management of an organisation’s employees. This spans a large number of professional sectors and includes a wide variety of duties, from the selection and recruitment of talented staff to more ‘technical’ aspects such as compensation, benefits and compliance with labour laws.
The range of responsibilities required of an HR professional will vary significantly depending on the sector in which a company operates, but more frequently on the basis of its size. In smaller or startup companies, HR professionals tend to be fewer and therefore to have a wider, more diverse set of activities to perform on a daily basis. In larger companies, these tend to be broken down into individual offices or departments that deal exclusively with one aspect of HRM. These generally include some combination of the areas listed below.
Recruitment and Selection
Professionals working in this area are responsible for advertising open positions via a variety of media (recruitment agencies, websites, university or industry events etc.) and selecting interesting profiles for the role on offer. They may also be in charge of evaluating potential candidates through interviews and/or specific tests, as well as placing candidates in cases where they have not been recruited for a specific role.
Roles in this area can be further divided based on levels, i.e. those responsible for graduate recruitment vs. those recruiting for senior management/executive positions.
Training and Development
Individuals working in this area have to plan, coordinate and evaluate appropriate training and orientation activities for employees across an organisation. They may also be responsible for producing training documentation, including manuals and other types of aids, and/or for promoting awareness of professional development obligations and opportunities amongst their staff. In addition, they may contribute to the performance management process in their organisation, helping supervisors manage the assessment of their employees as well as their development plans.
Some companies offer internal training opportunities, which may be run by specialist staff within the organisation itself.
Compensation, Pay and Benefits
Compensation, pay and/or benefits staff oversee the aspects related to the rewarding of employees. These include managing wage and salary systems, such as Sage 50 Payroll, as well as other types of compensation, which may include stock options and various kinds of incentives.
Benefits specialists – who may be distinct from compensation specialists, depending on the company in question – deal with informing and advising staff on the benefits offered by an organisation, as well as managing and evaluating the cost effectiveness of these plans.
In this kind of role, knowledge of employment and labour law is highly beneficial, if not critical, to ensuring that employees are compensated in compliance with regional, national and/or international legislation.
Employee and Labour Relations
HR professionals in these roles are responsible for managing employees’ relations with the management of their organisation, and/or for dealing with union representatives on behalf of the company.
An up-to-date understanding of employment law and collective bargaining agreements is essential for anyone involved in this particular branch of HR.
Larger organisations may also have HR staff dedicated solely to promoting Health & Safety and/or Equality & Diversity.
Most companies will also have senior level HR staff whose role is more strategic and focuses on managing the overall relationship between employees and management, promoting a mutually beneficial scenario in which staff satisfaction is guaranteed alongside the fulfillment of management goals.
How do I begin a career in HR?
The wide variety of roles available in the field of HR means there are a number of different career paths that aspiring professionals can approach, which require different types of skills and qualifications.
In general, most HR roles will benefit from some background business knowledge, particularly for those aspiring to reach management level positions. A solid base in a social science can also be useful, although a good degree in any discipline is generally considered sufficient for an HR Officer position. Candidates who have a Higher National Certificate or Higher National Diploma also tend to be sufficiently qualified for this role, while those aiming for an entry level position such as HR Assistant may be considered suitable if they have 4 or 5 GCSEs.
As HR is a people-focused vocation, strong communication skills and the ability to mediate disputes, manage conflicts and be diplomatic are essential. Those aiming for the more ‘technical’ roles, for example in compensation or benefits, may be expected to have more specific skills such as numeracy and analytical thinking.
Perhaps the most valuable asset to have, particularly for those interested in senior positions, is a professional qualification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD). These certifications exist across a number of different levels and include a range of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) that allow candidates to complete their training on-the-job and/or without having to attend public classroom sessions.
In a traditional HR career path, individuals gaining these professional qualifications alongside experience in the field will move from an Officer to an Advisor position, which is then followed by HR Manager and, finally, HR Director.